The Legend Of Korra: “Out Of The Past”
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The Legend Of Korra: “Out Of The Past”

B+

The Legend Of Korra

“Out Of The Past”

Season 1, Episode 9

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Way back in “A Leaf in the Wind,” Korra attempts to meditate with Tenzin and his children. The four family members sit contentedly, perfectly still, for ten seconds as Korra scratches her butt, sniffles, sneaks a peek at whether everyone is meditating better then her, then dejectedly declares that she thinks she’s doing it wrong. When encouraged to try again, she goes exactly two seconds before being all “Nope, not working!” and running away to get some juice.

I identified with this, as when I’m intermittently talked into going to a yoga class I can never manage to stop wondering if someone’s emailed me in the last 15 seconds, or whether I look stupid, or whether this hour and a half would have been better spent on one of 20 Deadlines of Damocles hanging over my head. I used to dread long car rides as a kid, but now, in a kind of sick way, I look forward to them. These times — when I physically cannot catch up with work, friends, TV, the gym, email, laundry, etc. — are the only times that the tiny, nagging voice in my head shuts up with the “Hey, couldn’t you be… doing something?” The idea of reserving an hour to meditate when I could be, say, spending time with the boyfriend I don’t see enough or cleaning the bedroom or calling my parents or, uh, finishing off a Korra review seems almost selfish, like a sin. Which is insane.

Modern America regards “doing nothing” as flaky at best and lazy or cowardly at worst, and I’m fully indoctrinated. But I’m starting to suspect that Korra’s big series arc may be a gentle indictment of this focus on doing rather than thinking, on accomplishments rather than introspection. So many of the Tarrlok-Tenzin political confrontations ended with Tarrlok saying something like “We can’t just do nothing!” and everyone else agreeing with him, and Korra’s echoed that a few times. It’s no coincidence that the Korra story is in this particular setting and has a main character with these particular spiritual difficulties—plus, she seems like the norm in Republic City, where everyone is busy, busy, busy.

Aang was a bit of a spiritual alien to the average American kid watching the first series—a 12-year-old boy who could sit down and calmly meditate whenever and wherever seemed even less plausible than a 12-year-old boy who could fly. Korra’s much more modern. She’s an impatient workaholic—her job is her life and her life is her job, literally. Her waking hours are taken up by practicing airbending forms, being on task forces, doing productive things; even her hang-out-with-friends activities are being a professional athlete and patrolling the streets. Her directive, a vague “figure out how to fix the various things wrong with Republic City,” is much more complex than “defeat the Fire Lord,” and the anxiety around “figure out” swirls around her head more aggressively with every day she can't get a handle on her powers. It’s no wonder she can’t get into meditation. How could she justify sitting around doing nothing when there’s so much to be done?

So, weirdly, Tarrlok does Korra a favor by kidnapping her and locking her in a metal box with nothing to do and no distractions.

Viewers, too, because we finally get the full flashback the show’s been teasing us with. Didn’t quite buy the voices of Toph and Aang, though that’s a hard thing to replicate. Aang in particular had a very expressive voice with a very wide range of tones in the original series, and it seems weird that puberty would replace that with a scratchy, serious monotone. Councilman Sokka’s voice was the only one I really bought as coming from the same character plus 30 years. (“With his mind.”) I did get a little shock of recognition from the animation of Toph’s body language and cursory wave with “Fine, come on, Twinkle Toes.”

Droopy Face Guy is indeed the guy on trial is indeed Yakone. I wasn’t sure from the flashbacks whether they were different people or whether the difference in appearance was because of the Anime Villain Close-Up filter — in the wider shots, Yakone he didn’t look that saggy, nor did his eyes look like they had pinprick pupils. I’m still not sure about that, and curious about the significance of the tiny pupils in the close-up; as someone pointed out in the comments last week, the exact same thing happens to people getting their bending taken away.

And speaking of people getting their bending taken away, when Aang does it to Yakone in the flashback, it’s not accompanied by the laser light show we saw in the finale of the first series. This suggests the lights were a visual metaphor for the viewers, which lends some cred to the theory that Amon is doing the same thing even though he places his hands differently. And, yup, Tarrlok is Yakone’s son (though timeline-wise, he would have had to be born years after Yakone went to jail). As Sokka outlines in the verdict, he’s just a specialty bender, probably not hooked up with the Spirit World.

One last thing about the Spirit World, from an interview the creators did back when the first episode of Korra aired:

Comics Alliance: It's been established that Korra is naturally more physical and less spiritual than Aang, which makes her fit in with the more technology dependent Republic City. Just as the new Avatar and her world have changed since Aang's time, should fans expect possible future manifestations of The Spirit World to be similarly altered?

Michael DiMartino: The Spirit World hasn't changed, exactly, but what will be interesting is to see how the spirit world reacts to Korra's technologically dependent world.

We’ve gotten practically none of that this season, aside from the mysterious, should-be-impossible things Amon can do, like being able to power through bloodbending—something we’ve only seen twice before, once with Katara, who’s also a bloodbender, and once here with Aang, who can only do with the aid of the Spirit World in the form of the Avatar state. It doesn’t seem likely that Amon’s a bloodbender, so his claims that his powers come from the spirits seems like the only plausible explanation, though I doubt he got them because the Spirit World is pissed at the Avatar like he says.

I have to assume the next season will spend a good amount of time in the Spirit World, maybe even having the big second-season conflict rooted there. And I’m looking forward to it—Korra’s terror about losing her bending and lack of identity outside her job as Avatar are going to be really interesting when put in the context of the Spirit World, where bending doesn’t work.

Stray observations:

  • Writing and journalism attracts masochistic workaholics like cocaine attracts… people who love cocaine. Work experiences in the modern era may differ.
  • “It’s empty!” “Yeah, I can see that.” The funny, humanizing beats the writers used to give to random Fire Nation soldiers are now popping up in the Equalists. Both are enemies with scary masks, but the show doesn’t want you to forget that they’re people.
  • Boomerang came back!
  • Bolin: pee-shy.
  • When Amon and Tarrlok meet, it seems like it’s definitely for the first time. I assume Amon followed him out there as reprisal for blaming the City Hall attack on the Equalists?
  • Aw, Beifong can tell from the minute she sees her men in a cage that they've been dis-bended. She looks quite maternal about the youngest one.
  • Three things about Beifongs and clothing: As Toph floats over the floor, you can see her uniform has no feet; she’s got a sort of stirrup-pants thing going on. Liked the little touch that when Lin is metalbending herself into her uniform, the impact of the armor rocks her forward a little. And in a couple scenes where Lin has her hand on her hip, her trenchcoat starts looking less noir-y and more bathrobe-y, in a Marlene Dietrich way.
  • Liked the contrasting-but-parallel narration over the scenes of Tarrlok going about framing the Equalists for attacking City Hall; reminded me to re-read Watchmen.
  • I’ve actually been liking Mako more now that the context of pro-bending has been removed—before, he came off as a rock star, with people recognizing him in the street; now he’s just another guy. And with the combo of his lines and the readings, the character’s been coming off like such an earnest dork. But I think we can all agree that stroking someone’s face is creepy, right?
  • “Wake up!” (Slap.)
  • Where’s Katara during the trial? I’d have thought she’d be there as bloodbending expert witness #1.
  • Like the last couple weeks, I'm out for the day and will swap in a better screenshot when I can get one, which will probably be tomorrow. Any suggestions or links welcome! (EDIT: Incidentally, if you ever have to go a-googling for Korra images, I cannot recommend turning on SafeSearch highly enough. Christ, my eyes.)
  • Wanted to qualify my reasoning on why I doubt any main characters will die: It’s not that the death would be too much for a Nickelodeon show, it’s the aftermath. These writers have shown themselves to be dedicated to having characters react to things in a pretty realistic, consistent way; if a member of Team Avatar 2.0 died, the show would have to jettison either its sense of fun or its character continuity. I do think they could accomplish the same sort of dramatic whammy while skirting that problem by having either or both of the brothers lose their bending in the finale. We’ll see about that.
  • I don’t think I’d mind much if we never see the face behind Amon’s mask. (This from a person who literally threw a sandwich at the television when Lost ended.) Would that bother you?

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